By BRYAN RAHIJA
Yesterday, Congressional Quarterly's Eugene Mulero and Kristin Coyner reported on the Open NDAA campaign--an effort by POGO and our allies to shine a light on how the Senate concocts its version of the massive defense spending bill. The article is behind a paywall, but CQ kindly agreed to let us publish the piece on our blog. Read their article below, and make sure to get involved in our campaign here!
Panel Chairwoman McCaskill Again Seeks Open Markup of Defense Policy BillBy Eugene Mulero and Kristin Coyner, CQ Staff
Sen. Claire McCaskill’s plan to open to the public on May 22 a subcommittee markup on a defense policy bill has prompted a campaign from watchdog groups calling on Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin to open the entire markup process.
Every year, Levin, D-Mich., says sensitive discussions over national security require the defense authorization bill to be considered in a closed-door session, and the full committee has always marked up the bill outside the public’s eyes.
Meanwhile, House counterparts this year expanded the public’s access to their version of the defense policy measure (HR 4310). Watchdog groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Sunlight Foundation argue if the House can do it, so can the Senate.
Last year, McCaskill, D-Mo., tried to open the full committee markup with the support of ranking Republican John McCain of Arizona; and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and David Vitter, R-La.
“I held a markup that was open to the public for the first time in 15 years, and my subcommittee will be open and transparent this year,” said McCaskill, who chairs the panel’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. “I hope others will follow suit, and I’m pleased that groups who are leaders in advocating for transparency in government are doing everything they can to convince all of my colleagues of the importance of the Armed Services Committee considering the defense budget in a fully open process.”
The Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, launched an advocacy campaign, OpenNDAA.org, that calls on the public to contact Levin and members on the committee to draft the bill in a public forum.
Since launching the campaign earlier this year with more than 40 other groups, POGO said it has gathered 4,600 individual signatories to the cause.
“I think in this day and age, it’s no longer possible for elected representatives to do the people’s business in the dark,” said POGO’s Angela Canterbury, a coordinator for OpenNDAA.org. “There’s too much money at stake to do this in the dark.”
This year, Peter K. Levine, the Senate Armed Services Committee general counsel, said members may expect debate over issues fraught with national security implications, such as counterfeit weapons in the Pentagon’s supply chain, cybersecurity and the status of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the full committee markup of the multibillion-dollar fiscal 2013 authorizing bill.
Since Levin took over the committee’s gavel in 2007, he’s been pressed by watchdog groups to open his markups, as were his predecessor chairmen. But the longtime senator is intransigent.
“He will vote to close it,” said Levin spokeswoman Tara Andringa. “He is fine with Sen. McCaskill’s decision, as subcommittee chairman, to open her subcommittee markup.”
Overall, Senate GOP members have been more supportive of opening the committee.
“The chairman does have legitimate points. If we get into sensitive classified material, we would have to close the markup and open it again,” McCain said. “I understand that, but in my opinion that’s not sufficient not to open the markup.”
In the House, transparency has been markedly on the rise. About a month before the full House Armed Services markup on May 9, committee staff members hosted a meeting with journalists to preview the panel’s fiscal 2013 defense policy bill. House staff members even asked journalists for their input to make the annual markup of the bill more publicly accessible.
Additionally, that House panel’s website had real-time streaming of the defense markup, and pending action was listed on a TV screen inside the committee room. A battery of staff members continuously provided amendment texts, vote tallies and statements from lawmakers.
Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican, said the action would be the “most transparent process in Congress for composing national security legislation.”
Some congressional observers have suggested contrasting electoral commitments help to explain why the House has initiated more open markups.
Sarah Binder, Brookings Institution congressional scholar, said, “House Republicans do have an electoral incentive to stay true to their promises as an election approaches. In contrast, we haven’t seen Senate leaders make such public commitments.”
Bryan Rahija edits POGO's blog.